Monday 11 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Numbers stack up for Dubs in bunched field

Cillian O’Connor
Cillian O’Connor
James O’Donoghue
Diarmuid Connolly
Michael Murphy
Star men: Colm O’Driscoll
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Mayo and Cork have been the leading five on the All-Ireland football contenders' list all season and nothing has changed as the line-ups for the quarter-finals begin to take shape.

It will, no doubt, irritate Monaghan that they are not included on the elite list. However, that's down to the perception that even if they take the Ulster title, they are unlikely to win the All-Ireland crown.

Dublin are 10/11 favourites, followed by Kerry (4/1), Donegal (9/2), Mayo (9/1) and Cork (12/1).

Here's how the top five compare under 10 key headings:


Cork: Despite reaching the League final, they conceded quite heavily in several games. They had problems against Kerry too last Sunday week so doubts persist about their security. Rating: 7

Donegal: The lockdown codes weren't lost in the handover from Jim McGuinness to Rory Gallagher. Rating: 9

Dublin: The cave-in against Donegal last August still haunts Dublin. They have the best defensive record of all teams this year, but they're heading towards the serious business now. Rating: 7

Kerry: Despite winning the All-Ireland, there was feeling that the defence could be got at. That continued in the League, where they had the worst record in Division 1. And Cork took them for three goals last Sunday week. Rating: 7

Mayo: They were quite edgy in defence against Galway last month, conceding two goals in a Connacht championship game for the first time since 2011. Rating: 7


Cork: Alan O'Connor's return has added valuable power and experience to the area. Rating: 8

Donegal: Neil Gallagher is having a great Championship, well supported by Martin McElhinney and/or Odhran MacNiallais. Rating: 8

Dublin: Brian Fenton has a big future ahead but is still finding his way, while Michael Darragh Macauley is not having the same impact as a few seasons back. Rating: 7

Kerry: David Moran, Anthony Maher and Bryan Sheehan are the main trio and while they didn't dominate against Cork, there's a lot more to them than that. Rating: 8

Mayo: Playing Aidan O'Shea in attack shows how comfortable the management are with the midfield pairing of Seamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons. Rating: 8


Cork: They hit Kerry for three goals 13 days ago, having also done well in most of the League, although not in the final against Dublin. Rating: 8

Donegal: It's all about team effort, with defenders getting forward regularly and forwards dropping back as required. Rating: 8

Dublin: The options for Jim Gavin are many and varied as he fishes from the deepest attacking pool in the game. Rating: 9

Kerry: If they can hold Colm Cooper in reserve they must be happy with their strike force. Rating: 8

Mayo: Despite criticism that they rely too much on too few, their strike rate has been quite good. Rating: 8


Cork: Seven of the 21 who played against Kerry featured on the 2010 All-Ireland winning side. That's a solid base of hard-nosed seasoning. Rating: 8

Donegal: There was a vast reservoir of experience aboard, even before the Jim McGuinness revolution began in 2011. Since then, Donegal have won 23 of 27 Championship games. Rating: 9

Dublin: With only two Championship defeats since the start of the 2011 season, they have accumulated a huge amount of positive experience. Rating: 9

Kerry: They too are a very seasoned lot, with Colm Cooper, Marc O Sé and Aidan O'Mahony leading the vintage brigade. Rating: 9

Mayo: They have endured some misery but have also accumulated a lot of big-day seasoning. Rating: 9


Cork: Having failed to beat Kerry in the SFC since 2012, a win this evening would send their self-esteem soaring but, as of now, they trail the other main contenders on that front. Rating: 7

Donegal: After losing last year's All-Ireland final and undergoing a change of management, there were doubts about how this season would develop. The response has been very impressive. Rating: 8

Dublin: When a team can win a provincial title for a fifth successive year without being tested, their confidence tanks must be overflowing. The Donegal disaster last year took its toll, but Dublin have got most things right since then. Rating: 9

Kerry: Their teams always major in confidence, all the more so when they are defending All-Ireland champions. Rating: 9

Mayo: Repeated failure to win the All-Ireland does not appear to have damaged Mayo psychologically. Rightly so. The positives from the last four seasons far outweigh the negatives. Rating: 8


Cork: Colm O'Neill is capable of delivering something special and Donncha O'Connor still plays with an impressive swagger. One big win could see a few others blossom. Rating: 8

Donegal: Michael Murphy is arguably the best footballer in the game; Paddy McBrearty, Colm McFadden and Odhran MacNiallais are well capable of turning on the lights too. Rating: 8

Dublin: Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Stephen Cluxton and Jack McCaffrey are among the lead acts, but there as several others too who can electrify the scene on any given day. Rating: 9

Kerry: James O'Donoghue and Colm Cooper are special talents, albeit with the later not quite back to a level which earns a starting spot. The enduring excellence of Marc O Sé deserves recognition too. Rating: 9

Mayo: Cillian O'Connor, Aidan O'Shea, Keith Higgins and Lee Keegan lead the way. Rating: 8


Cork: They were able to call on All-Ireland medal winners Patrick Kelly and Daniel Goulding against Kerry but won't be starting them this evening. Rating: 8

Donegal: There's plenty of experience on the bench. Rating: 8

Dublin: They could field a second-string attack that would be guaranteed places on many other teams. Rating: 9

Kerry: They have a range of experienced alternatives to choose from in all departments. Rating: 9

Mayo: They have lots of experienced operators on the bench, but they would benefit from some fresh talent to really shake things up. Rating: 8


Cork: How can the contrast between their assertive performances against Kerry last Sunday week and against Mayo in the quarter-final last August be reconciled with the abject failures twice against Dublin in the League (2014 semi-final; 2015 final) and against Kerry in last year's Munster final? Rating: 7

Donegal: There's no doubt about their temperament. Over the last few years everything about their mental approach has been flint-hard. Rating: 9

Dublin: Two Championship defeats since the start of 2011 shows how hard-edged they have become. The defeat by Donegal last year didn't undo all that. Rating: 9

Kerry: Believing they are the best is bred into every Kerry footballer from the day they are able to read the All-Ireland honours list. Rating: 9

Mayo: It's easy to classify Mayo as 'chokers' but it's also unfair. The heart-breaking defeats suffered in the Championship had nothing to do with mentality and everything to do with not playing well enough. Rating: 8


Cork: Brian Cuthbert has had a frustrating time so far. Cork's better days raised hopes of a major surge, only to be let down by some very sloppy performances. Rating: 8

Donegal: Rory Gallagher had the advantage of knowing the players and the set-up in detail when he replaced Jim McGuinness. It was a huge help but the really big tests have still to come. Rating: 8

Dublin: One All-Ireland, three Leinster and three Allianz League titles in three seasons (and a favourite's rating for a second All-Ireland) is a mighty impressive haul for Jim Gavin. Rating: 9

Kerry: Managers are judged on All-Ireland titles in the Kingdom, and since Eamonn Fitzmaurice has delivered one against the odds, he has won over a demanding public. Rating: 9

Mayo: Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly are in their first season in charge but there's no honeymoon period in a county where an All-Ireland win is the only ambition that matters. Rating: 8

2015 Form

Cork: Topped Division 1A and reached the League final, where they were wiped out by Dublin. Eight wins from 11 League and Championship games is solid form, but doubts will persist until they land a title. Rating: 8

Donegal: Three more wins in Ulster looks impressive but how good were the opposition? Tomorrow's Ulster final will provide an answer. Rating: 7

Dublin: The Division 1 and Leinster titles have already been secured in a season where they have lost only two of 12 games. Rating: 9

Kerry: A sixth-place finish in Division 1 after scoring less than any of their seven rivals was written off as an irrelevance in a longer term plan. However, many of the defensive problems which undermined Kerry in the League returned against Cork last Sunday week. They need to be eradicated. Rating: 7

Mayo: They finished in the bottom half of Division 1 and while they maintained their superiority over Galway in the Connacht Championship, the performance mixed the good with the mediocre. Rating: 7

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